Data Liberation

Dear J-

I’m not sure if I’ve mentioned this before but there are times I wish I was a curator of stuff or things; there are interesting stories to be teased out of history and the closest I get to that is doing volunteer work editing Wikipedia entries. It’s interesting to read contemporary accounts and dig up what’s publicly available on the Internet (Google Books is pretty amazing with old periodicals) to try to make entries better; there’s a lot of information, some of which doesn’t make sense. I read up about the Bay Aviation Services Super-V conversion to a Beechcraft Bonanza and the best source of history turned out to be a court case, in fact.

It feels a lot like the reports you used to make when you were in grade school: read a reference, regurgitate the information onto the screen in a non-plagiarized manner. Tie it together thematically and you end up with something you can send out in the world to get edited down or trampled on or … but at the same time I wonder if research skills have atrophied to the point where when you find something that’s a clear contradiction without much effort, I wonder how many unverified assertions are floating around out there. I suppose there’s some that don’t sound so outlandish and so they don’t go challenged for a long time. That’s easy enough, I suppose.

Do you remember having to pore through lists of articles and then either physically locate the bound copies, or else pull the right microfilm reel? Having these things at your fingertips is amazing and that’s the point, I suppose. Wikipedia is a good general overview but you should really check the primary sources if you’re going to be citing anything, and doing so is so much less effort now than it was in the 90s … and less expensive, too. I have several physical books of lenses because I love reading through these thinly-disguised marketing materials but also because that was the only way to get reliable data — purchase the book yourself, then liberate the information inside. I hope you’re properly excited by all of this too.

Mike

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